The Campaign Against Polio: Faisal al-Mohammad
In 2015, Faisal al-Mohammad fled Aleppo city. The outbreak of the war and escalation of bombardments on the city by the Syrian government forced Faisal to abandon his studies at the University of Aleppo. He fled southwest to the countryside of Idlib and found himself on a public health campaign to vaccinate children against polio.
Back 2013, an outbreak of the polio in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour had paralyzed more than a dozen children. It was the first case of polio in Syria in 14 years. By 2014, confirmed polio cases had also been reported from Aleppo, al-Hasakeh, and Idlib. The disease was spreading.
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children. While initial symptoms include fever and limb pain, the disease can also cause paralysis, which is often permanent. With no cure, polio can only be prevented by immunization.
Once polio emerges in a population, it is difficult to eradicate. It is resistant to common disinfectants and is able to survive for long periods in food, water, and sewage. Health experts estimate the each diagnosed case of polio correlates with roughly a thousand infected people.
In response, a coalition of nonprofit organizations recruited and deployed thousands of volunteers for a polio immunization campaign.
Faisal Al-Mohammad joined this campaign in northern Syria.
In 2013 while still in Aleppo, Faisal began working with the polio task force that immunized children in the country’s embattled north. With a team of 15 people, he embarked on a grassroots campaign that went door-to-door to immunize children.
The campaign was not without risk. Vaccinators faced shells, barrel bombs, and snipers—with four volunteers killed in 2014. Despite the security issues, Faisal helped vaccinate more than 4,000 children—around 500 children per campaign period.
Faisal and the team expanded the campaign by opening facilities in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo. They began to administer other vaccines, including for the flu. From these facilities, Faisal branched out to reach underserved villages.
The polio immunization campaign has vaccinated millions of children across Syria. But there the work is not done. In 2018, polio vaccinators are reaching some areas of Syria, like Raqqa, for the first time in years. In Deir er-Zor, where the outbreak began, the disease has reemerged with newly reported cases.
Today, Faisal continues his work for the vaccination campaign in the Idlib countryside. “Our motivation is humanity and caring for our children,” he said.
Syrian Voices is a new video series created by MFA to share the personal stories of people affected by the crisis. By letting Syrians speak in their own words, Syrian Voices aims to help us all better understand the impact of the humanitarian crisis and share the lives, challenges, aspirations, strengths, and successes of the Syrian people.
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